Celebrate in style at Elmore Court which oozes Downton Abbey elegance
When an international DJ and former aid-worker take the helm of a Downton Abbey-style house, something rather exciting happens.
Anselm and Sarah Guise are, on one level, a young(ish) couple with two small children, building an extension and doing some redecorating.
Except their home is Elmore Court and has belonged to the family for 750 years. And the revamp budget is £1.5 million, to include an exciting new wedding venue.
Elmore Court sits amid 1,000 acres on the bend of the River Severn. Its approach, through the modern estates of Quedgeley, across the canal and past half-timbered cottages, feels like a drive to back in time.
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Enter the ornate gates of Elmore Court and the sense of reaching the Downton Abbey era of elegance and deference is complete.
Elmore might be beautiful, but it wasn't luxurious when Anselm, 42, inherited the 500-year-old house and estate from his late uncle in 2007.
For a start, the heating doesn't come on with the flick of a switch, and the bill, for frugal use, is £8,000 a year.
The couple have a two-year-old son Wylder, and baby daughter Amber-Lily. It's a long trek from one end to the other, with a small baby in your arms, and in winter you keep your coat on.
But Sarah is used to less than luxurious living. As a former aid worker she lived in Pakistan and Nepal for more than two years running health projects for women.
"Disasters don't happen in accessible places – you end up living in remote villages in the back of beyond," she said.
Sarah is clearly resourceful, but she's also warm, generous and no lady of the manor.
Despite being a new mum, she got stuck into the first task at hand – decluttering – from baby christening robes to enough china dinner services to literally fill every inch of a drawing room.
History had been hoarded to the point of finding a 1942 cigar box labelled 'pieces of string of no use anymore'.
"We find watching Downton Abbey absolutely fascinating. Much of it feels so familiar, although some is absolutely nonsense," said Sarah.
Designed for a different way of life, it is the details of Elmore which are intriguing.
"The main door into the hall has no handle or lock. There would have always been a footman here, ready to open the door. You would never have opened the door yourself," said Sarah.
While Anselm's late Uncle John had clung on to a bygone era – he never entered the kitchen, for instance – it was clear to Anselm that Elmore needed a new vision to survive.
The couple were not only custodians of the estate, but also had a big financial headache.
"The estate was losing money but to commercialise the house would be like ripping its soul out. It would be the same as selling it," said Anselm.
The team from Channel 4 TV series Country House Rescue, which featured Elmore, suggested turning it into a cookery school. But the couple knew the real solution was to draw on their existing talent – staging creative and imaginative events.
Sarah was a founder of boutique festival The Secret Garden Party. Anselm discovered electronic music in the late 80s, ran nightclubs in London, became an international DJ and a founder of the Glade electronic dance festival.
"We knew that the local community were concerned that we were going to bring Glastonbury to their doorstep," said Anselm.
In 2009 he admits he confirmed their worst fears by holding a wild party. If Elmore was to be a venue for events, the noise problem had to be solved.
The solution lay beneath their feet.
"Our mud is perfect for a rammed earth building," said Anselm.
And so Elmore's new venue for weddings and festivities, The Gillyflower, is being built of rammed earth, 400 cubic metres from the soil of the estate itself, providing the ultimate soundproof venue.
A new biomass generator, using timber from the estate will provide a sustainable heating source.
The project featured on BBC2's new show The Planners.
And Elmore Court itself is being treated to a complete redecoration, from painting high cornices to restoring 400-year-old tapestries. Wedding ceremonies, and other gatherings, can be held in the historic main house, which will also offer guest accommodation. Then the Gillyflower will welcome guests for dinner and dancing.
"The house comes to life when it's full of people," said Sarah.
Originally one of three estates owned by the Guise family, Elmore was built specifically to entertain
While the pair have a very 21st century vision for the future, they hope that one aspect of the Downton Abbey past will return – Elmore Court's place at the heart of a community.
They want its halls to be full of voices and laughter again and its gardens to grow food for guests.
"We're welcoming people with ideas and vision to get involved," said Anselm.
"There used to be a whole community here and a social aspect which has a real beauty to it, and it's that which is exciting to me.
"It would be nice to be some kind of example of how to use the land and property and people together.
"Rather than being the family in the big house, with a team of people waiting on us, we are going to become the people that wait on the guests that come to Elmore. And I rather like that."